Bertha Ann Davis, 70, owned restaurant on Gay Street in E. Baltimore for 15 years

May 19, 1998|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Bertha Ann Davis followed a simple philosophy during her 15 years in the restaurant business: For five days a week you can work to earn a meal, but on Fridays you have to pay.

"She believed that, and she followed that strictly," said daughter Anita Turner of Baltimore. "She expected you to pay at least one day a week. But if you didn't have anything, she'd still feed you."

Ms. Davis, who owned Bert's Place on North Gay Street in East Baltimore from the late 1960s until 1982, died Friday of cancer at her home on North Chester Street. She was 70.

Ms. Davis was the owner and cook -- and often waitress -- at Bert's Place, an eclectic little restaurant where you could either eat in or carry out.

Bert's Place was modestly adorned. But the food -- especially the crab cakes, pigs' feet, macaroni and cheese, and pineapple bread pudding -- was superb.

"She could cook up some food," said Gloria Mouton, who lives near the former site of Bert's and was a frequent customer. "I can't think of nothing that she couldn't fix and fix good."

Ms. Davis and her family lived in an apartment above Bert's Place, and her children were allowed to help run the business, as long as they stayed out of the kitchen. That was her domain.

"She learned from her parents, then she taught all of us," Ms. Turner said. "She let us do everything else but cook the food. But she was always the main cook in her kitchen. She was a professional cook."

Ms. Davis often gave meals free to the needy or had them do chores in or around Bert's Place as payment. "But the duties were just a formality," Ms. Mouton said. "She'd always feed you, but she'd prefer you have money to pay."

A native of Baltimore, Ms. Davis graduated from Dunbar High School in the early 1940s and worked at East Baltimore bars, carryouts and diners.

She closed Bert's because the business became overwhelming. But after closing it, she ran a catering business until this year from her home, where she fixed dinners for several area businesses.

Family members said that for five days a week, she sold more than 100 dinner plates a day. Health problems forced her to retire.

"She'd wake up at 5 [a.m.] and have 100 plates ready by 11 a.m.," Ms. Turner said. "She'd do all of the shopping, preparing and cooking. It was her business and she made sure everything was right."

Services will be held at 10: 30 a.m. tomorrow at New Antioch Baptist Church, 2400 St. Paul St.

Ms. Davis never married. In addition to Ms. Turner, she is survived by a son, Roland Davis; another daughter, Bertha Queen; two brothers, Alfred Davis and Clarence Davis; seven grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren. All are of Baltimore.

Pub date: 5/19/98

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